Roger Ebert's Funeral: 'The Vanilla Sky Opens to Welcome One of Its Own Home'

Chaz Ebert Roger Ebert Funeral - H 2013
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Chaz Ebert Roger Ebert Funeral - H 2013

A note from Spike Lee and a Hollywood-centric homily highlight services for the legendary critic; says Mayor Rahm Emanuel: "He was the most American of American film critics."

CHICAGO -- Chicago Sun-Times film critic, TV personality, blogger and Tweeter Roger Ebert was honored this morning with a liturgy of resurrection and redemption at Holy Name Cathedral on the city's near northside.

"He was the most American of American film critics in the most American of American cities," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, brother of Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel. Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn noted, he was"a great teacher" and "union man."

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In 1967, Ebert was hired as the full-time film critic at the Sun-Times. John Barron, a former publisher and editor at the tabloid daily, recalled that the 70-year-old writer who died of cancer Thursday was driven by "an indescribable lure to find out stuff." On Sunday, the newspaper ran his last review, of Terrence Malick's To the Wonder.

Jonathan Jackson passed along a message from filmmaker Spike Lee: "Roger fought the good fight. Roger fought the power." Jackson also delivered a message from his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said Ebert "sought to explain America to itself."

Rev. John Costello, one of three con-celebrants at the funeral mass, touched on The Hours and a 2001 film by Cameron Crowe in his literary homily: "As the curtain falls and the balcony closes for our earthly, dear Roger, maybe we can keep in mind the kind of God whose images and symbols continue to be introduced through the irony of seeing celluloid light in the darkened arenas of human foible. Seeing that God face to face, the 'Vanilla Sky' opens again to welcome one of its own home to a never-ending tenderness, to timeless embraces in an exploding glory amid the serenest of calm of one who finally knows for sure, yes, he was right all along."

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Director Gregory Nava from Sante Fe, N.M., led a prayer: "For all of us who work in the the world of filmmaking, an art form that Roger dedicated his life to elevating and encouraging and fighting for, that we may continue to be inspired by his spirit." Chicago filmmaker Steve James was discreetly shooting scenes for his documentary-in-progress on Ebert. James' Hoop Dreams earned a top review from the critic in 1994, as did Nava's El Norte in 1983.

Adjusting the veil of her Linda Campisano chapeau, Ebert's wife Chaz drew a laugh with, "He loved this hat." Her daughter Sonia and granddaughter Raven had addressed the almost full cathedral earlier. Father Michael Pfleger concluded the service with, "The balconies of heaven are filled with angels singing `thumbs up.' "

On Sunday, there was a private memorial vigil with an open casket at the chapel of Graceland Cemetery on the city's north side. A public tribute -- "Roger Ebert: A Celebration of Life" – is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Chicago Theater, 175 N. State St. Remembrances, video testimonials, clips and gospel choirs are planned. In lieu of flowers, donations in Ebert's memory may be sent to The Roger & Chaz Foundation, c/o The Northern Trust, 50 S. LaSalle St., Chicago.

Bill Stamets is a freelance writer and film reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times.